I wasn’t at the last Thornwatch playtest. I made the mistake of relaxing for one second last Friday, one Goddamn second, and PAX finally caught up with me and laid me out. I understand that it was… a thing.
Watching a game materialize is fascinating. I’ve written games, certainly; that’s the axis I feel like I have something to contribute in. But I have avoided “design” quite on purpose. I’m an editor, at heart. If I were being uncharitable, and that’s sort of in my wheelhouse, I would say that it was an effort to avoid responsibility - cowardice, essentially. That would be fine with me. But I also don’t want to design games, and when the first barriers arise I run from the hills. I don’t have the thing underneath the thing, the mania for it. But you need somebody around to tell you when you’re off the rails, because it’s very hard to see. You need an asshole, essentially. Well, another one. An external one. This is something I’m good at.
Because he decided to set it in Lookouts, there’s a lot of lore that needs making. We need to know this stuff anyway, so it’s a lot of fun writing poems and building it out. Right now I’m just going full blast in an attempt to be useful, we’ll see if that designation ultimately applies to any of this stuff. I did make a bit for the rule of thumb people use to remember how to call the Thornwatch though, which he seemed to like. These are all knots, and yes, I know how they look:
Twainward for burdens that no man should carry,
Bent Bow for battles you can’t fight alone,
Wagon-Wise for when the Watch must not tarry,
Crow’s Loop for travelers far from home.
Being sick gave me a chance to process more PAX, which I still have a lot left to do it turns out. I thought about Ironclad Tactics, and how good it was, and how I never had a chance to come back and play the last level of the demo. The reality is that I didn’t have to play it to know it was good.
When I went to see his little out of the way booth tucked in a hallway at the Hyatt (?) I realized that I was angry with him at some level. I like puzzles, and I like Puzzle Games; but SpaceChem is the first game in a very long time to make me feel like a fucking idiot. I described it as a harrowing embolism manifold because I could feel the vessel plumping, like a balloon, robbing my blood. I was worried that some shit might go down. But Zach is probably the nicest, most genuine person I’ve met in my tenure as Internet Demagogue. All his weaponry is turned inward; I couldn’t resent him. I think he’s just smarter than other people, I don’t think he can actually help it.
The genre I’ve heard referred to colloquially as Lane Based is big, big stuff now: that’s how people refer to games like the Orions and Spectromancers and SolForges, where you line up your cards on one side and deal damage to an opponent through the cracks. It’s Magic, but with highly regimented playfield. Ironclad Tactics has lanes of a sort, but it doesn’t model hitpoints - you succeed by running robots past the enemy line, a kind of villainous “end-zone.” Where this clanking, steam-driven design gets tasty is that everything is operating in phased, real-time turns. That means that there’s a lot of head-fakes, mind-games, and robots playing “chicken.” You’re building an engine in real time, always noodling on it, giving it twists here and there. Brilliant.
Your army is a deck, full of swords and guns you can bolt on your shimmying bots, and clutch maneuvers to perform end runs. You earn them as you play, and you’re always improving.